Founding ONA board member Mary Jane “MJ” Bear passed away on December 17, 2010, in Seattle, Wash., after courageously battling leukemia for seven months. She led an interesting and dynamic life, and while doing so, always fulfilled her selfless mantra of “doing the right thing.”
Her altruistic nature and ability to provide sage and thoughtful advice has and will continue to influence everyone she touched. She left a positive impression on hundreds of people around the globe.
MJ graduated from Boston University with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and went on to attain a Master of Arts in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. After graduate school, she worked for several television stations around the U.S., in roles of Producer and Executive Producer.
In 1995, when the Internet was in its infancy, MJ realized that there was a tremendous opportunity to marry journalism with the web. In the developing industry, she served as project manager and consultant at Microsoft. From 1996 to 2001 she worked for National Public Radio in Washington, DC, eventually ending her tenure as the Vice President for Online. It was there that she created 36 award-winning websites and negotiated key partnerships with AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, and Real Networks.
MJ established her independent consulting company, MJBear.com, in 2001. She also re-entered academia when she accepted a broadcast journalism teaching position at American University in Washington, D.C. In 2004 she served as a Knight International Foundation Fellow in Bucharest, Romania, training journalism students and media professionals. She was later recruited by Radio Free Europe in Prague to serve as Director of Programming from 2005 to 2008.
MJ’s dedication to work and passion for excellence were never more apparent than in her last several years, when she worked for MSN-Microsoft and was based in Vienna, Austria. She served as Executive Producer for the Central and Eastern Europe Middle East and Africa MSN websites. Her responsibilities included launching websites in Greece, Poland, Israel, and Turkey as well as launching new TV programming in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia. MJ’s accomplishments at MSN launched her into an executive training program within Microsoft and provided her with various awards and accolades within the company.
MJ believed deeply in casting a spotlight on up and coming digital journalists who might otherwise not get attention. As part of her legacy, she laid the groundwork for what would become the MJ Bear Fellowship. The fellowship is funded by MJ, her colleagues, and family — with the goal of giving young journalists the training, mentoring and notice she felt they deserved. In 2019, a generous gift from Microsoft News expanded the program to support double the number of fellows each year.
ONA is indebted to MJ’s family for their generosity—her mother, Jeanette Bear; brother, Dr. Philip (Robin) Bear; sister, Linda (Robert) Carpenter; uncles Myron (Barbara) Bear & Rabbi Herman (Paula) Blumberg; niece and nephews Chelsea, Elliot and Mason Bear, and Blake and Jake Carpenter; and cousins Joan Tigai, Jonathon Blumberg (Jenny Richlin), David (Karen) Blumberg, Naomi (Rabbi Braham) David, Dawne (Gregg) Novicoff, and Ab (Allyson) Bear.
We’ve collected a few quotes from some of ONA’s founding members below.
Fred Mann, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:
“I remember MJ as that most unusual of combinations: a person who was so smart and savvy that she probably had the right to feel haughty or superior, but also a person who was so incredibly humble, thoughtful and caring that acting superior would never have crossed her mind. I met MJ when we both served on the original ONA Board. I was with Knight-Ridder and Philly.com, she with NPR. She was generous in sharing her considerable knowledge of this new medium we both had a hand in creating. Her open, unpretentious manner at those early meetings contributed to keeping a lot of egos in check and helped build a warmth and camaraderie on the Board that got ONA off to a strong, value-driven start.
I remember it was MJ who chaired ONA’s first effort at a conference/annual meeting/award ceremony at Columbia University—an event that came off beautifully and set the stage for bigger conferences and successes to follow. And I remember her coming in late to a post-event celebration and beaming as her fellow Board members gave her a standing ovation. In recent years, as she worked in Europe and I joined the world of philanthropy, we did not manage to stay in touch. I regret that. But I will always remember her—especially that beaming smile. How typically selfless of her to establish a fund to help both young journalists and ONA. That’s the MJ I knew.”
Rich Jaroslovsky, first ONA Board President, Bloomberg News:
“M.J. was a critical figure in the Online News Association before there was an Online News Association. She was among the handful of journalists who met in Chicago in December 1998 to discuss whether there was a need for such an organization, and who plunged into the task of making the idea a reality. Her two assignments coming out of that meeting were pure MJ: helping fashion a budget for an organization that had no structure, no members and big ideas, and leading our initial educational and information-sharing efforts. How emblematic of this practical and visionary woman! MJ’s attitude from the get-go was “Let’s get this done … and let’s get this done right.” Her tireless efforts were instrumental in getting the organization off the ground, her warmth and wisdom were among ONA’s chief assets, and her memory will always be a blessing.”
Doug Feaver, former Washington Post editor:
“MJ was a good friend. I first met her at the Online News Association’s first meeting, if memory serves correctly. We were both founding members and board members. Since she was in Washington at that time, I saw her regularly, sought her advice because she knew more than I did as I was trying to get on top of this internet thing, and always benefited from what she had to offer. We enjoyed each other. I will miss her. The ONA convention this year just didn’t seem right without MJ.”
Jill Blackman, Chicago Editor, Yahoo:
“It was our first ONA conference at Columbia University, and MJ was the chair. It was an unbelievable task to put together the first and she did an amazing job. It was a complete success with rave reviews. I recall during the lunch break MJ—who had been running and busy all morning—had stepped off by herself for a moment and was watching everyone sit and chat and eat. I asked her if everything was OK—and I won’t forget what she told me in that moment because it was so beautiful. She smiled at me and said she was stepping back to enjoy and appreciate the moment.
Two years later when I chaired the event she reminded me to do the same. The lesson has stood not just professionally but also in my home life. I will always be thankful to MJ for reminding me to always take a step away to enjoy and appreciate. I will miss her tremendously and feel honored to be among the many who had the opportunity to know and work with her. Her commitment to online journalism will live on through her scholarship and it is a beautiful way to honor her legacy.”
Jon Hart, Dow Lohnes, former ONA general counsel:
“MJ was instrumental in the founding of ONA. From the first meeting at O’Hare (Airport) in 1998, where the founding board wrestled with what ONA should do and how it should be governed, hers was a thoughtful, steady voice. Once there was consensus, MJ rolled up her sleeves and made things happen. I am particularly grateful for her early contributions to the Legal Affairs Committee. Her imprint on the organization will be felt for many years to come. And we will long miss her wit and her friendship.”
Elizabeth Osder, the Osder Group:
“So back to that first ONA conference in 2000 held at Columbia Journalism School in New York City, which MJ chaired. We didn’t expect we could get 100 people to actually pay and attend, but somehow we ended up with 150 journalists packing the venue and leaving others trying to get in. It was an unmanageable situation and MJ managed it with great grace, making sure everyone felt welcome and, even better, making ONA look like it had its act together.
As we could expect from MJ, the day went off without a hitch, an excellent program, made memorable by her remarkable personal touches, including her concern over feeding the extra mouths in attendance. I remember MJ coming over to my table at the luncheon and asking folks if they were doing all right, did they need anything? After getting a thumbs-up, she leaned over and whispered in my ear, ‘Osder, did you get anything to eat?'”